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Joe Mc T Written by Joe Mc T
Oct. 13, 2009 | 9:37 PM





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Cinecon 45 Wrap Up

CINECON 45 Wrap Up
By Joe Mc T


I was lucky enough to be able to attend part of the movie marathon CINECON 45, a 5 day celebration of vintage American movies, the word vintage apparently now meaning from cinema’s earliest days to as recent as, well, 1966. (This year’s screening of THE SILENCERS created a small amount of grumbling from some baby boomers who could be heard complaining that if a movie was made during their lifetime it was too recent for Cinecon!) 


What follows is by no means intended as a definitive report on this year’s Cinecon, but merely a rundown on what were, for this casual attendee, the highlights.  Others who were there may protest the incompleteness of this review, but Cinecon, which began as a get-together for 8mm movie collectors, has grown into such a mammoth event that taking in the entire thing may become a feat of endurance for even the most ardent movie lover, and there is much more to Cinecon than just the films: there are Q&As with the stars, there are dealer rooms with so much memorabilia that you could win the lottery and blow it all in the same week, and there is the annual banquet, all of which are beyond the scope of this article.


PRE-CODE TREATS


AFRAID TO TALK (Universal 1932), dir. Edward L. Cahn, photog. Karl Freund, with Sidney Fox, Eric Linden, Tulley Marshall, Edward Arnold. 
Hands down, this was the highlight of the long weekend for me and, judging by word of mouth at the fest, many of this year’s attendees.  This perceptive, clear-headed pre-Code drama about Chicago political corruption resonates rather unpleasantly with very recent political events on the national level.  A group of thugs, bent on advancing their own interests no matter the cost to the public, manages to get into political power on the basis of their perceived war on crime, but they have secret ties to the very mobsters they designate as the enemy.  They appoint puppet leaders, thrive on backroom deals, successfully manipulate the press and use torture.  Sound familiar?  This is one of those frustrating films that, because of its peculiar power, you want to get your friends excited about, only to be confronted by the impossibility of truly describing a film in words.  Its honest to God toughness and grit are beautifully leavened by touching, and sometimes even sexy performances by Sidney Fox and Eric Linden as the young couple whose lives are most directly affected by the selfish politicos.  Unfortunately, this is one of many films from the weekend that you can’t find on DVD, but hopefully its exposure at this year’s Cinecon will lead to more screenings and greater circulation in the future.  If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get to see it on film like we did.


LOVER COME BACK (Columbia 1931) dir. Erle C. Kenton, with Constance Cummings, Jack Mulhall, Betty Bronson, was another highly enjoyable pre-Code drama, this one about infidelity and corruption at the corporate level.  Like so many films of this era, the performances are good and the film has an honesty that often went missing a few years later.  I appreciated the uncompromising narrative about the boss having an affair with his employee’s gold-digging wife.  I work in a big law corporation, and I can tell you that some things haven’t changed in 80 years.


EARLY CAPRA


THE YOUNGER GENERATION (1929) I have mixed feelings about Capra, but I must admit I was moved by this film, corny mish-mash that it was. (Note to self: keep this opening statement for the next time you write about a Capra film.)  This one is superficially resembles THE JAZZ SINGER, the success of which seems to have inspired it; it deals with an elderly Jewish couple and their wild children, played by none other than Ricardo Cortez and “Demille’s Godless Girl” Lina Basquette!  Although their roles are pretty two-dimensional, Rosa Rosanova and Jean Hersholt as Ma and Pa Goldfish generate a good deal of sympathy, but the best characterization belongs to Ricardo Cortez as Morris, their son who, although he loves his parents, is so driven to climb the social ladder that he becomes embarrassed by them.  Also like THE JAZZ SINGER, this film alternates between silent scenes and clumsy “Dawn of Sound” talking scenes, which have a lot of camp appeal. 


LOST AND FOUND DEPT.


BARDLEYS THE MAGNIFICENT (MGM 1926), dir. King Vidor, with John Gilbert, Eleanor Broadman.  I know some local fans of silent film star John Gilbert who were very excited when a print of this long-lost costume extravaganza turned up a couple of years ago.  Oddly, Cinecon’s presentation of this recently restored “lost” film was marred by sometimes fuzzy video projection as compared with the film’s recent run at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, but it couldn’t miss being a lot of fun, and one of the few from the weekend that is readily available, thanks to Jeffrey Masino and his brainchild, Flicker Alley DVDs.  A witty, Fairbanks-inspired romp that should please all fans of 1920s Hollywood, and you can find this one in your local video store!


BROADWAY LOVE (Universal 1918) A rare chance to see perhaps the most versatile actor ever to become a full fledged star, Lon Chaney, in an early role.  Although his screen time can’t have amounted to much more than 10 minutes, Chaney is the reason for our interest in this competently made “prestige” picture of its day.  He is suitably repulsive as the country bumpkin bully who shows up in the most unexpected places to make heroine Dorothy Phillip’s life difficult. 


THE DAWN OF TOMORROW (1915) dir. James Kirkwood? with Mary Pickford.  I was excited about seeing this until-recently lost Pickford film, having just read Eileen Whitfield’s excellent biography The Woman Who Made Hollywood.  Not a terribly good film, but an important find, as there are too many missing Pickford pics from this important part of her earlier career.  The rediscovery of this one gives us a chance to see the first American film superstar in the role that meant so much to audiences of her day - the quintessential spunky, optimistic orphan. 


ODDS AND ENDS


Others I enjoyed included the World War II era spy drama NIGHTMARE (1942) with Brian Donlevy and Diana Barrymore, which was very much like a watered down Hitchcock film, and especially resembled THE 39 STEPS.


RUMBA (1935) starring Carole Lombard and George Raft, a film whose appeal lies very much in the charisma of its wonderful stars, showing just how much power there is in star power.  Who knew that George Raft was such a hoofer?


THE NIGHT RIDERS (1939) John Wayne in one of his last films for Republic, in a narrative borrowed from ZORRO.  With Kermit Maynard, and “Elmer as himself”.  What more could one ask?  This would be hard to watch on a TV screen, but there’s something about the natural graininess of film, and sharing the experience with an appreciative audience.


Disclaimer
Joe Mc T is not a professional writer, and was only present for part of Cinecon 45. 
   


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